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By Association Member China Hamilton.

As an artist, I have always been some what bemused with the concept of sexual censorship.

There are two roads to censorship - one is religious and the other is political. The concept of religious censorship is though relatively recent in human history. Early major civilisations, which often spanned many hundreds and even thousands of years of existence, exhibited primarily only political censorship. In other words you only needed to be careful what you said about certain people who held power.

Religious censorship is more difficult to divine as the details and practice of beliefs often fail to reach us today in any detail; though as the concept of secularism seldom if ever existed, what we would term blasphemy would have been extremely rare until we reach the time of Pope Gregory and the inquisition. What does seem clear from the historical record, especially that of the pictorial image, is that sexual practice and thought was usually seen as natural, enjoyable and healthy. In many societies, even homosexual practice was tolerated or seen as quite normal.

Today and in contrast in most established societies sexual freedom is the most controlled of all human practices and has been for a very considerable time. The historic and current pressure of such control comes primarily from religions. The word ‘control’ is key to this situation.

At some point, very early in the development of human consciousness, religious belief was seen by a minority the priesthood elite, as a method of exorcising control and power. Often from such control and power stemmed a comfortable life and wealth. The ego of this small group was polished by their ability to have considerable influence at the highest possible level within a society. Such control groups attracted the articulate, ambitious, intelligent, fanatical and manipulative. Those that did not seek the religious employment route were equally at home on the political ladder, many combined both. [A moments thought will see that nothing has changed even in often highly secular societies. Religions, though often reflecting a minority, still wield considerable power, control and influence, especially in the area of human sexuality.]

Why did religions eventually seek to control sexuality? It is simple, our sexual preferences, fantasies, practices, and enjoyments dominate major periods of our thought and lives. Sex in itself also of course controls the fundamental, that of reproduction. Control sexuality, even sexual thought and imagination and you control the individual and the family. When people genuinely fear hell fire and damnation, it is easy through fear and guilt to control thinking. Change something that is fundamental and natural into a dirty, vile and guilt ridden practice riddled with shame, embarrassment and secrecy; punished by future and unsubstantiated sanctions after death or even punish socially and publicly in life and you have real power and control.

Those that don’t believe, don’t subscribe to a particular belief, those who have the intellectual freedom to think for themselves, can be isolated by the fanatical group through pier pressure, convention and punitive laws. One must understand that both historically and to this day, religion is not about the adoration of some super power or some divine being, it is totally about the constructs of the priesthood elite.

Universally they, cloaked in the supposed power of the deity, act as proxies for the divine forces; each religion at any time in history laying down its man conceived constructs and laws with unarguable dogma. The aim has always been to invade every aspect of a society and convert, influence and control. Ensnared within this web of power is your individual right to your own sexuality and sexual expression.

When the other arm of censorship, law and politics also subscribes to the religious belief; religious control also easily becomes State law. Simplistically and as an illustration of where we are today, just to be naked, arguably our most natural state, can render a person a criminal in most countries and often provoke harsh punishment. Bizarre but sadly true.

You will notice how I avoid mentioning any specific religion. What would be the point, I subscribe to the view that if the cap fits…

What is also strange to consider is that when there have been spiritual collectives that have advocated sexual freedom, they have though never enjoyed the equality of toleration given so freely to other sexually repressive beliefs. Rather, such belief groups have often been hounded, suppressed and banned by otherwise tolerant societies. They are seen as dangerous, even politically dangerous. Thus ‘free love’ and slogans like ‘make love not war’ were seen as subversive and suppressed. This supposes that there is an innate intolerance that has developed globally as humans have developed, that superficially at least has a suspicion and intolerance of sexual freedom that does not derive uniquely from religious control.

This could be explained by assuming that there has been an absorption over time of the endless propaganda of religious sexual control to a point where even the secular subscribe. One cannot say that we were originally primally programmed like this, as examination of earlier societies shows that their sexual enjoyment and toleration would be seen as totally unacceptable by most societies today. It is therefore a lengthy period of attrition that has contributed to this change.

It is also the power of the group, a fear of group censorship, isolation and condemnation if an individual speaks out in favour of the liberalisation of sexual freedom. How much easier is it for those in positions of power to keep silent or even condemn rather than to encourage relaxation and liberalisation. Politically it is always so easy to adopt the moral high ground, take no risks, ‘say the ‘right’ thing. Even the private individual is pressured to keep their sexual beliefs and desires to themselves for fear of provoking an adverse reaction from their shy or repressed peers. Indeed sexual repression and censorship feeds upon personal secrecy and group hypocrisy. If something is secret, private, intimate, then it is easy to perceive that it has something to hide, to be ashamed of.

Before this discussion travels too far there are some ground rules to be observed. Sexual freedom contains an important word, ‘freedom’. As a fundamental it must respect and observe the rights of others. It is not about imposing its fantasies and practices, as religion and the state so often impose their dogmas, upon those who do not share their beliefs. Sexual freedom must at all times be governed by consent. Where there is no consent, or people are not of an age where they can make an adult consent then we have no rights to force or impose or even assume. Where there is no consent or ability to consent then the individual becomes a victim of abuse. There are no ifs or buts, no excusable arguments to this rule. A fantasy can exist in the mind but when it becomes a desire to practice and is forced upon another then it is abuse and a fundamental wrong. It is not a factor of censorship or moral judgement for free thinking people should always condemn it.

If we do not condemn we are as equally wrong as those who in the name of their religion or state practice force their actions and beliefs upon others around them; especially the vulnerable such a women and children. If we are to argue for the right to personal freedoms we must at all times respect and protect the rights of others especially those less able to defend or even understand their rights.

We live in a world today, where the desire of the fanatical to impose their belief structures upon others has never been more active. Humans seem incapable of individual practice without an overwhelming desire to force it upon those around them who so often do not share that belief. It has reached an extreme when actual violence is used in the name of a religious belief.

So when such fanatical thinking gains a position of power and influence it attempts to force its beliefs with draconian energy. It so often uses and manipulates gullible followers as tools of oppression and violence.

The normal healthy state of debate and argument is lost. Reasonable, tolerant people, always seem overwhelmed; perhaps quite simply because they are reasonable and tolerant; the fanatic or the mob succeeds almost every time. It is strange that the most powerful counter to such negative forces is not the champion of individual, personal freedom but the ancient desire to make money. Capital and market forces undermine attempts to censor and control by political and religious constraint. The glitter of the high street shop and the money to be made from pornography in the end so often succeed. Capitalism is a strange white knight of individual consensual freedoms.

How much more wonderful this world would be if we cherished the rights of others to be different if their differences did no harm; if we all occupied our own daft space and did not feel the need to control the thinking of our neighbours. We may believe that God has a white beard and requires us to paint our noses red, we may believe that the earth is flat, we may mutually enjoy buggering our partner. All such views and practices are harmless, healthy, until we start to believe that ours alone is the right belief and practice and that those with red noses should be burnt at the stake.